Bethlehem, occupied West Bank — Ahed Tamimi, a prominent teen activist, turned 17 on Wednesday in Israel’s HaSharon prison, where she has been held for more than a month.
Last month, Israel’s military court in Ofer detention center near Ramallah ruled to keep both Ahed and her mother Nariman in prison until the end of their trials, because they “posed a danger,” Gabi Laski, their lawyer, said.
Ahed, who is facing 12 charges, was arrested from her village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank after a video of her slapping and hitting two Israeli officials outside her home went viral.
Shortly before the video was filmed, Israeli forces had shot Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin point-blank in the face with a rubber bullet, leaving him in a 72-hour coma.
Since Ahed’s arrest, she has become an international icon for the experiences of Palestinian children under Israel’s more than half-century occupation. Demonstrations have been held for the imprisoned teen in various countries around the world.
Mondoweiss sat down with teenagers in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp, where Israeli violence is an everyday reality for its some 15,000 residents. Teenagers here are descendants of Palestinians who were expelled from their homes during the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” amid Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Mondoweiss discussed with them their experiences as teenagers living under Israeli military rule and how they relate to the now iconic teenager.
Nancy Sarasra, 16: ‘We cant sleep’
Human rights don’t exist here. Israel raids the camp almost every night. Sometimes we can’t sleep because of the sounds of shooting. At times, we are even prevented from going to school because there is tear gas and soldiers on the street.
If we go outside, we are scared we will be injured or killed. It doesn’t matter to the Israelis if we are children or adults.
Even when we go to school, we can’t concentrate. Our minds are constantly thinking about our friends and family in the camp.
I see Ahed as someone who refuses to stay quiet. All Palestinians know that it’s not easy to have soldiers invade your home. But Ahed is actually brave enough to stand up for herself and her family.
She’s not a symbol for just Palestinian children, but for children all over the world. Maybe this attention she is getting will lead to some kind of substantial solidarity. But it’s also possible that everything will quiet down and the media will move on.
The media tends to focus on us when something big or newsworthy happens. But people should remember that life is always dangerous for us here, whether the media is paying attention or not.
Nour Ayesh, 17: ‘We should stand up for ourselves’
What happened to Ahed is something that’s actually very common here. Many Palestinians experience a lot worse than Ahed did. In Dheisheh, even 13-year-olds are sent to prison, but no one is talking about them.
We see what Ahed did as very righteous. But if there was no one filming the incident, the soldiers could have killed her. I think the media needs to pay more attention to what happens when the cameras are gone.
Israeli soldiers are always in Dheisheh camp, searching for specific residents to arrest. When Israel arrests you, it doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. Maybe you are educated; maybe you have a loud voice; or maybe you stand up for yourself. Israel is very scared of this.
I remember two years ago, my mom and 12-year-old brother were crossing the checkpoint from Bethlehem into Jerusalem. A soldier told my mom to take off her jacket and hijab in front of everyone at the checkpoint. She refused and the soldier became very aggressive with her, so my brother intervened and started screaming at the soldier.
They arrested him right there. He came back two days later with a swollen face and he couldn’t move his arm because the soldiers had beaten him so badly. Even a child becoming angry is considered by Israel as a criminal act.
Ahed seems to have reached a point where silence isn’t an option anymore. For a long time, Palestinians have been scared to stand up for ourselves. But Ahed is making us realize that we should no longer stay silent to all the injustices Israel is doing to us. We should stand up for ourselves like Ahed did.
Fatoom Shahin, 16: ‘We are proud of Ahed’
About two years ago, I was sleeping at my uncle’s house. Israeli soldiers started banging on the door at around 3 a.m. My uncle opened the door and dozens of soldiers stormed in. There was a newborn baby sleeping on one of the beds. The soldiers flipped the bed over with the baby still on it. We thought the baby was injured or killed. But thank God he was ok.
They destroyed everything in the house. They arrested my 20-year-old cousin, blindfolded him, and led him outside to an army jeep. During the raid they beat up his 16-year-old brother.
After the raid my aunt and sisters were crying so hard. We spent hours trying to calm them down. We didn’t even have anywhere to sit because the soldiers destroyed everything.
Last year, Israeli soldiers shot one of my best friends to death. When the soldiers do these things, it affects everyone. You don’t just kill a person, you also destroy their friends and family in the process.
And to make it even worse, Israel will then paint our friends and relatives as horrible terrorists to the rest of the world. This is what they are doing to Ahed. But what could a teenage girl possibly do to justify soldiers saying she is dangerous?
The soldiers are always older than us; they are armed. Not only this, but when they raid the camps and villages, they don’t come alone. They come with dozens of other soldiers. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. But then they still consider even teenage girls to be dangerous.
We are very proud of Ahed because she isn’t just standing up for her own rights, but for the rights of all Palestinian children. We have hope that what Ahed is fighting for will one day be realized.
But, at the same time, it’s important that we are not leaving a teenage girl to continue the struggle alone. She did something very big for her age, but we need men and women and all of society to stand up for us in the same way that Ahed did.